As National Charter School Week kicks off, Utah is celebrating the 20th anniversary the legislature allowed the formation of charter schools in the state.
Cache Valley is home to six charter schools, which, according to Utah Association of Public Charter Schools Executive Director Royce Van Tassell, include one of the oldest and one of the most successful charter schools in the state.
“One of the great successes of all of public education over the last 20 years is this recognition that we’re all engaged in that common effort of providing a great education to the kids,” Tassell said.
A common misconception about charter schools is that they are private and require a tuition to enroll. However, according to the Utah State Board of Education website, charter schools are actually considered public schools because they are open to the public, funded by the public and they are accountable to the public.
“Charter schools are public,” InTech Collegiate High School Executive Director Jason Stanger said. “Anyone can apply and attend a charter school. There is no tuition.”
With the passage of Utah’s Charter School Act in 1998, the first eight charter schools were formed in Utah. In 2001, the legislature allowed charter schools other than the original eight to be formed.
One of the first three charter schools to be approved after the original eight pilot schools was Thomas Edison Charter School.
TECS South Principal Melani Kirk, TECS North Principal Shem Smith and Tassell remember the challenges the school faced the first few years.
Kirk said the school received pushback from the district schools, the neighbors and others who didn’t know what charter schools were about. Finding teachers who were willing to come to the school was also difficult in the early years of charter schools, according to Kirk.
“It was a challenge that first year just getting the word out to people, getting people that wanted to come in and try this new thing that’s totally brand new in the valley,” Kirk said.
According to Shem, during the first years, as students were expected to enroll in district high schools, they were seen as different, but as time has passed on, this stigma began to disappear. Today, charter schools and both Logan and Cache districts work closely together to meet students’ needs.
“There’s a lot more of these cohesive efforts that, I think, the early days did not see,” Shem said.
Along with one of the oldest charter schools in the state, Cache Valley is also home to one of the most successful charter schools in the state.
Established in 2006, InTech Collegiate High School has been ranked as the No. 1 school in Utah four times in the last eight years by U.S. News.
A misconception surrounding Intech, according to InTech’s Stanger, is that only the smartest students can get into the school.
“We’re not just for the best and brightest students, though we certainly have some flat-out brilliant kids,” Stanger said. “Most of our students are average students who are willing to work. If they’re willing to work, we can help them to be successful.”
As the community continues to learn about charter schools and the choices available to students, Kirk says charter schools and district schools push each other to become better for students.
“Competition — you think can be a bad thing, but in this case, I think it’s been a fabulous thing because everybody had to step it up,” Kirk said. “Our local school districts step it up; we constantly step it up. I think it’s a win-win situation for the students.”
Because of this competition and a motivation to help students, all the schools in the valley are looking for the next best thing to help more students, Stanger said.
“The most motivating thing in education is feeling like we’re making a difference,” Stanger said. “To actually see that we’re making an impact for students, that keeps us going on to the next thing.”
Another benefit from charter schools, according to Kirk, is that they offer different programs for students and different teaching styles. With six charter schools and two school districts, Cache Valley students have more options.
“The beauty of charter schools is that they are schools of choice, and every charter school is different in what their niche is,” Kirk said. “We have children within a family that fit one niche better than another.”